Friday, 29 June 2018

Your Older Dog

June 29, 2018 0

As he grows older, your dog's needs may change a bit, but he will always need good nutrition, exercise and, most of all, plenty of time with his favorite person -- you.

Rates of aging vary by breed and size. Smaller dogs generally have longer lifespans than larger breeds, although each individual dog ages differently. Usually, the larger the dog, the sooner it begins aging. Some giant breeds can show signs of aging as early as 5 to 6 years, and some toy breeds show no signs of aging until they are 11.
The folk tale that dogs age seven years for every calendar year is inaccurate. It's more accurate to think of dogs as being equivalent to teenagers by their first birthday, in their mid-20s by age 2, and then aging about four human years per calendar year after that. So a 3-year-old dog is about like a 28-year-old person, and a 12-year-old dog is comparable to a 64-year-old.
Once you know how "old" your dog is, you can devise a senior health plan with your vet to minimize the impositions of aging and prolong the time you and your dog have together.

Signs of Aging

As your dog grows older, look for signs like the hair around his muzzle turning gray, and his dash to the door taking a bit longer when you take out the leash. Other signs of aging to watch for include:
  • Weight gain. A dog's metabolism slows as she ages. She may also be less active than she was in her younger days. If your dog is living like a senior and eating like a middle-aged dog, the odds are your dog will become overweight. Your vet may recommend adjusting the amount of food and adding a vitamin supplement to compensate for the loss of nutrients in a smaller portion. A geriatric dog food is another option your vet may suggest. If your dog experiences a rapid, sudden weight loss, take her to the vet immediately.
  • Hearing loss. If your dog does not respond when you call his name or issue verbal commands, or if she barks suddenly for no apparent reason, she may be experiencing hearing loss. Take her to your vet to determine whether she does have a hearing loss and how severe it is. A hearing-impaired dog can respond to hand signals and touch, and care should be taken not to startle her awake or approach her from behind.
  • Impaired vision. If you see that your dog's eyes are growing cloudy, take her to your vet. A bluish cast can be a normal consequence of aging and not affect eyesight. A hazy, whitish growth can indicate cataracts that can lead to blindness. Help your dog cope with a loss of vision by not rearranging furniture or redecorating; a change in the environment can cause stress and confusion.
  • Increased elimination. In his younger days, your dog might have been able to let you sleep in, but many senior dogs need to relieve themselves as soon as they wake up. Notify your vet when you see a change in your dog's elimination patterns; incontinence can be a sign of kidney disease, hormone imbalance, or other medical conditions. For a dog who has become incontinent when he sleeps, place a plastic sheet over his bedding and cover it with a washable pad.
  • Less energy, reduced mobility. Your older dog may tire more easily and nap more often. Stiffness in her legs, hips, and shoulders can be a result of the aging process or signs of arthritis. Lung or cardiac problems can also make exercise difficult. Have your vet make an evaluation and decide on a course of treatment. If your dog's mobility is limited, she still needs exercise; walk a little slower and enjoy the journey.
  • Thinner coat, thicker skin. A dog's coat grows thinner and dull as he ages and the hair around his muzzle and ears grays. Your dog's skin will thicken and become less elastic. Examine your dog frequently for lumps on or under the skin; most lumps are harmless fatty deposits, but they could be signs of tumors, cysts, or cancer.

Comfort Years

Your dog has given you a lifetime of adoration -- now is the time to show your appreciation for a job well done. While you can't reverse the effects of aging for your pet, you can make them more bearable.

  • Adapt the indoors. Bare floors and throw rugs can be slippery. Short nails help your dog keep his grip on bare floors, and you can also put nonskid matting under rugs. Steep stairs can also lead to falls; Dr. Robert Culver of the Heartland Animal Hospital in Des Moines suggests blocking off such areas so the dog can't go up or down. Elevated food and water bowls and insulated, cushioned beds can make life more comfortable for your dog and are available at pet supply stores. Keep his bed in a warm, dry place away from drafts.
  • Reduce outdoor hazards. To avoid wintertime falls, "watch out for ice on porches and decks," says Dr. Culver. Also, senior dogs have less tolerance for extreme temperatures; they should not be left outdoors in hot or cold weather.
  • Continue regular grooming. Proper nail, tooth, ear, and skin care and frequent brushing help maintain your dog's good health and appearance. You can continue to give your older dog regular baths; just be sure to dry him off thoroughly so he doesn't get chilled.
  • Medical care. To make the most of your dog's senior years, schedule a thorough yearly exam so your vet can check for vision and hearing loss, as well as and heart disease, and take blood to monitor the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
  • Routines. Consistent mealtimes, rest time, walks, and play periods are especially comforting to your dog as she ages. Try to avoid disruptions in your dog's daily routine. Since being in a strange environment can be disorienting and stressful, traveling may not be an option for a senior dog.
  • TLC. Just like humans, dogs need extra tender loving care as they adjust to the changes that accompany aging. You can ease your dog through these transitions with patience, attention and affection.

Thursday, 28 June 2018


June 28, 2018 0

If you've ever wondered if your dog's bark is worse than his proverbial bite, the answer may lie no further than your next-door neighbor. Some canine behavior problems, such as house soiling, affect only a dog's family. But problems such as escaping and excessive barking can result in neighborhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances, and that means problems with your pet can soon become "people problems." If your dog's "talkative nature" has created tension with your neighbors, then it's a good idea to discuss the problem with them. It's perfectly normal and reasonable for dogs to bark from time to time, just as children make noise when they play outside. But continual barking for long periods of time is a symptom of a problem that needs addressing--from the perspective of your neighbors and your dog.
The first thing to do is determine when and for how long your dog barks, and what causes him to bark. You may need to do some clever detective work to obtain this information, especially if the barking occurs when you're not home. Ask your neighbors what they see and hear, drive or walk around the block and watch and listen for a while, or start a tape recorder or video camera when you leave for work. With a little effort you should be able to find out which of the common problems discussed below is the cause of your dog's barking.

Learn Why Your Dog Barks

Your dog may be barking out of boredom and loneliness if:
  • He's left alone for long periods of time without opportunities to interact with you.
  • His environment is relatively barren, without companions or toys.
  • He's a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and doesn't have other outlets for his energy.
  • He's a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs to be occupied to be happy.


Expand your dog's world and increase his "people time" in the following ways:
  • Walk your dog at least twice daily--it's good exercise, both mental and physical. Walks should not only be considered "potty breaks."
  • Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee® and practice with him as often as possible.
  • Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them every day for five to ten minutes.
  • Take a dog-training class with your dog. This allows you and your dog to work together toward a common goal.
  • To help fill the hours that you're not home, provide safe, interesting toys to keep your dog busy, such as Kong®-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys. Rotating the toys will make them seem new and interesting.
  • If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure he has sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising).
  • Keep your dog inside when you're unable to supervise him.
  • Let your neighbors know that you are actively working on the problem.
  • If your dog is well socialized and you have your employer's permission, take your dog to work with you every now and then.
  • When you have to leave your dog for extended periods of time, take him to a "doggie day care center," hire a pet sitter or dog walker, or have a trusted friend or neighbor walk and play with him.

Territorial/Protective Behavior

Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:
  • The barking occurs in the presence of "intruders," which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school, and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards.
  • Your dog's posture while he's barking appears threatening--tail held high and ears up and forward.
  • You've encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.


  • Teach your dog a "quiet" command. When he begins to bark at a passerby, allow two or three barks, then say "quiet" and interrupt his barking by shaking a can filled with pennies or squirting water at his mouth with a spray bottle or squirt gun. This surprise should cause him to stop barking momentarily. While he's quiet, say "good quiet" and pop a tasty treat into his mouth. Remember, the loud noise or squirt isn't meant to punish him; rather it's to distract him into being quiet so you can reward him. If your dog is frightened by the noise or squirt bottle, find an alternative method of interrupting his barking (perhaps throw a toy or ball near him).
  • Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog isn't barking, then reward quiet behavior and correct responses to a "sit" or "down" command with special treats such as little pieces of cheese. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward your dog's quiet behavior. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have him feed your dog a treat or throw a toy for him.
  • If your dog barks while inside the house when you're home, call him to you, have him obey a command such as "sit" or "down," and reward him with praise and a treat. Remember to pay attention to your dog when he's being quiet, too, so that he comes to associate such behavior with attention and praise.
  • Don't encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered to decrease territorial behavior.

Fears and Phobias

Your dog's barking may be a response to something he's afraid of if:
  • The barking occurs when he's exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction noise.
  • Your dog's posture indicates fear--ears back, tail held low.


  • Identify what's frightening your dog and desensitize him to it. You may need professional help with the desensitization process. Talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication while you work on behavior modification.
  • During thunderstorms or other frightening times, mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a comfortable area in a basement or windowless bathroom, and leave on a television, radio, or loud fan. Block off your dog's access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms. Avoid coddling your dog so that he doesn't think that he is being rewarded for his fearful behavior.

Separation Anxiety

Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:
  • The barking occurs only when you're gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
  • Your dog displays other behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, greeting you frantically, or reacting anxiously whenever you prepare to leave.
  • Your dog has recently experienced a change in the family's schedule that means he's left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.


  • Some cases of separation anxiety can be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques. Successful treatment for some cases may also require the use of medication prescribed by your veterinarian.

Bark Collars

There are several types of bark collars on the market, and we generally don't recommend them. The main drawback of any bark collar is that it doesn't address the underlying cause of the barking. You may be able to eliminate the barking, but symptom substitution may occur and your dog may begin digging or escaping, or become destructive or even aggressive. A bark collar must be used in conjunction with behavior modification that addresses the reason for the barking, as outlined above. You should never use a bark collar on your dog if his barking is due to separation anxiety, or fears or phobias, because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviors worse.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Eating Strange Objects (Such as Feces)

June 20, 2018 0

If your pet has an appetite for such oddities as socks, rocks, or even feces, chances are you've wondered--and worried--about her unusual eating habits. In this case, your worry may be justified: Not only can your possessions be destroyed or damaged, but objects such as clothing and rocks can produce life-threatening blockages in your pet's intestines. Eating non-food items has a name: It's called pica. A specific type of pica is stool eating--either the dog's own or that of another animal. It's called coprophagy. Rarely seen in cats, coprophagy is fairly common in dogs, especially those who tend to be highly food-motivated. And although it's not necessarily dangerous to the animal, it probably is unacceptable to you.

Why Animals Do This

The causes of pica and coprophagy are not known. Many theories have been proposed by various experts, but none has been proven or disproven. One idea is that such behaviors may be attention-seeking behaviors. If engaging in one of these behaviors results in some type of social interaction between the animal and his owner--even a verbal scolding--then the behavior may be reinforced and occur more frequently.
Others think these behaviors may be attempts to obtain a necessary nutrient lacking in the diet, although no nutritional studies have ever substantiated this idea. Pica and coprophagy may also stem from frustration or anxiety. It's even possible that the behaviors begin as play; as the animal investigates and chews on the objects, she eventually begins to eat or ingest them.
Some experts have suggested that coprophagy is carried over from the normal parental behavior of ingesting the waste of young offspring. Others believe that coprophagy occurs more often in animals who live in relatively barren environments, are frequently confined to small areas, and/or receive limited attention from their owners. It's also possible that dogs learn this behavior from other dogs.
Because pica and coprophagy are not well understood, stopping these behaviors may require assistance from an animal behavior professional who will work individually with you and your pet.

Suggested Solutions for Coprophagy

Because the cause of coprophagy isn't known, no techniques or solutions are known to be consistently successful. However, the following techniques may be effective in resolving the problem:
  • Treat your pet's food with something that causes his stool to taste bad. A commercial product called 4-BID¿ is available through your veterinarian. The same result may be achieved by using the food additive MSG. Based on owners' reports, both of these products work in many cases, but not always. Before using either of these products, consult with your veterinarian.
  • Give your pet's stools a bad taste by sprinkling them directly with cayenne pepper or a commercial product such as Bitter Apple®. For this method to be effective, every stool your pet has access to must be treated so that he learns that eating stools results in something unpleasant. Otherwise, he may discriminate (using scent) which stools have been treated and which have not.
  • Keep your dog on a leash any time you take him outside. If you see him about to ingest a stool, interrupt him by clapping your hands, spraying a squirt bottle, or shaking a can (only for pets who aren't afraid of loud noises). Then immediately give him a toy to play with instead, and praise him for taking an interest in the toy.
  • Clean your yard daily to minimize your pet's opportunity to eat his stools.
  • If your dog eats cat feces from the litter box, install a baby-gate in front of the litter box area. Your cat shouldn't have any trouble jumping over it, but your dog likely won't even make the attempt. Or, place the litter box in a closet or room where the door can be wedged slightly open from both sides so that your cat has access but your dog doesn't. Think twice before setting up a some kind of homemade "booby trap" to stop your dog from eating cat feces from a litter box: Remember that if it frightens your dog, it's likely to frighten your cat, too.

Suggested Solutions for Pica

Pica can be a serious problem because items such as rubber bands, socks, rocks, and string can severely damage or block an animal's intestines. In some instances, the items must be surgically removed. Because pica can be potentially life-threatening, it's advisable to consult both your veterinarian and an animal behavior professional for help. Here are some other suggestions:
  • Make the objects your pet is eating taste unpleasant by applying cayenne pepper, Bitter Apple®, or some other aversive. (For more information on using aversives, see our tip sheets on using aversives to modify your pet's behavior).
  • Prevent your pet's access to these items.
  • If your pet is food-oriented, change his diet to a low-calorie or high-fiber diet. This may allow him to eat more food, more often, which may decrease the behavior. Check with your veterinarian before changing your pet's diet.
  • If you suspect that anxiety or frustration is the reason for your animal's pica habit, change the behavior by using behavior modification techniques.
  • If you catch your pet ingesting items and believe it is to get attention, startle your pet with a loud noise or a spray of water. If possible, avoid letting him know that the startling noise or spray came from you, and be sure to praise him when he leaves the items alone. You may want to give him something acceptable to eat or chew. Try to set aside 10-15 minutes twice a day to spend with your pet so that he doesn't need to resort to pica to get your attention.
  • If you think your pet's pica habit is play behavior, then keep plenty of toys around for your pet to play with. Cats especially like to play with string, rubber bands, and tinsel, and ultimately ingest them. Keep these items out of reach and provide a selection of appropriate toys.

What Doesn't Work:

  • Interactive punishment (punishment that comes directly from you, such as verbal scolding) is usually not effective because it may be interpreted by your pet as attention. What's more, many animals learn to refrain from the problem behavior when their owner is present, yet still engage in the behavior when their owner is absent.
  • Punishment after the fact is never helpful. Animals don't understand that they're being punished for something they did hours or even minutes before. This approach won't resolve the problem and is likely to produce either fearful or aggressive responses from your pet.